HaYidion Article in Summer, 2019 Issue

The umbrella organization for North American Jewish Day Schools, PRIZMAH, invited me to submit an article for their most recent educational journal.  The volume’s theme, ‘Deepening Talent,’ focuses on “cultivating growth and vitality for all its [school] stakeholders, from students to board members.”  My article, “Reimagining Modern Hebrew Instruction,” appears in the ‘Study and Reflection’ section, and mentions many of the precepts contained in my articles on this blog, with a focus on transforming Hebrew teacher and learner attitudes and outcomes.

Here’s the link to the journal:  https://www.prizmah.org/hayidion-digital/#/shelf/view/default

And here’s a direct link to my article on page 54: 

https://www.prizmah.org/hayidion-digital/#/reader/24790/744521

As always, I invite readers to reflect, question, challenge and engage.

Please leave a comment and/or contact me through the blog!

 

Comprehensible Hebrew: Big Ideas

When I’m invited to present or consult with elementary, middle, high school or supplementary (temple-based) administrators and parents who are unfamiliar with the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), I often provide a “Big Ideas” hand-out for later reference and reflection.  I offer it here on the blog, and invite your questions, wonderings and feedback.

Comprehensible Hebrew  –  BIG IDEAS

*Primacy:  Humans acquire language one way:  By understanding messages, a.k.a. Comprehensible Input (CI).

*Communication:  Modern Hebrew is a tool for communication.  A focus on phonology, morphology, grammar or syntax constitutes linguistics – and does not serve our communicative goals.

*Input vs. Output:  Listening and reading, the receptive/input skills, precede writing and speaking, the productive/output skills.  Therefore, we must build a foundation via input, then set appropriate and reasonable expectations for output.

*Compelling Interest:  When the incoming messages are compelling, listening and engagement skyrocket.

*Personalization:  By tailoring the messages through co-created images, scenes & stories, we optimize the input and attention to it.

*Literacy:  Reading compounds language acquisition.  Once the sound and meaning of the language are in their heads, reading feels natural & effortless.

*Program Content:  Modern Ivrit for interpersonal communication is different from liturgy, religious study & sacred text, though there is overlap.  BICS/CALP continuum – Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills & Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.

*Instructional Time:  A 90-minute/week Hebrew offering means that after 4 years, students have logged +- 200 hours.  Compare that to nearly 12,000 hours of native English input that kindergarteners come to school with (VanPatten).  Bottom line: Most of our students are Hebrew language ‘toddlers;’  every precious class minute counts; optimizing quality is paramount.

*Outcomes:  Set realistic, developmentally appropriate goals, and align our teaching with them, across the offering.

*Instructional Quality:  By rededicating ourselves to quality instruction with well-trained, Hebrew-proficient faculty, we can deliver compelling Hebrew at the discourse level.  By monitoring and refining our offering, we ensure for our students an enjoyable & effective Ivrit experience.

*CI Hebrew Resources:  Currently there are precious few research-aligned Hebrew trade materials.  Many CI teachers adapt or create original materials based on their teaching environment, student proficiency level & interests.

*Professional Development:  We can support our Modern Hebrew instructors by: Providing high-quality training that aligns with SLA; engaging in mentoring & coaching; observing & reflecting on other experienced CI teachers’ practice.

*Community:  Stakeholders will embrace the re-envisioned Modern Hebrew offering when they hear positive student buzz, and see the camaraderie it fosters.  CI strategies are appropriate for students of all ages, including adults!

*Reflection:  I invite you to read and comment on my Comprehensible Hebrew community blog.  This free resource is dedicated to teachers improving Modern Hebrew instruction, and, in turn, enhancing student attitudes, learning experiences & outcomes.  

*Take a Peek:  I invite you to view this blog post for a captioned video of DAY 1 Hebrew instruction at my temple-based supplementary school program.

*Inspire:  Your school has a unique opportunity to pioneer a research aligned, re-envisioned Modern Hebrew offering.  Your bold leadership in this area will influence Modern Hebrew instruction, attitudes & outcomes both locally and globally.  

Revamp:  Now that SLA is ‘out of the bag,’ we must:  1. Take a hard look at current Ivrit classroom practice and school offerings; 2. Abandon those methods that don’t align with SLA;  3. Deliver compelling & comprehensible Ivrit, the driver of acquisition!

*Transform:  Ivrit class ought to be inviting, positive and joyful for our students and faculty, affording continued growth in proficiency, while sparking interest and encouraging pursuit

Finally, it’s been an honor and pleasure to open this exciting dialogue with you.  Please contact me with questions & comments.

Starting the Year #2: Extending CI While Staying In Bounds

For Part 1 of this post on student surveys and PQA, click here.

How can we get lots of repetition on hi-frequency language, so that the students develop a practical Hebrew foundation?  Here are some ideas for after you take an oral survey of student interest, such as ‘Which ice cream do you love?’  (See an extensive Hebrew menu of  ice cream flavors here.)

Layer on a Visual Anchor:

When we casually ask the same question to each class member and orally collect personalized survey information, massaging it into a compelling conversation, we can later insert this new-found information into a graphic organizer.  This allows us to focus on a visual anchor as we review the community’s preferences, and since we’re doing it with a new visual, it feels fresh and novel.

Simple visual aids may include:  

  • A labeled T-chart
  • a bar graph
  • a tally chart
  • a simple list

We can easily draw this on the white board at the front of the room.  We can get fancy, adding colorful artwork, borders, graphics, etc.

Then, we review and discuss (same or next class) based on that class-specific visual.  No extra work for teacher – we build the graphic in real time or after the initial conversation.  We may need to think through what we’ll want the info graphic to look like, and prepare, print or draw a template.

We may also choose to create a paper template, so that each student can track the data as it’s collected – but wait to do this until after the students demonstrate a secure foundation in basic Hebrew – several hours/months into the school year.

By the end of this session of circling, interviewing and asking details using repetitive language, comparing and contrasting preferences, restating and re-telling in slightly different phrasing (“They love; they do not love”), and presenting the data visually in a graphic organizer, you’ll be ready to add some new questions to the mix.

How many students love Tutti-Frutti?  

How many girls love ice cream that has chocolate?

NB:  Make sure the ?כמה interrogative poster from my Hebrew Corpus Word Wall is posted for Pause-Point-Slow.

Another easy visual way to anchor a survey discussion is via a slideshow – in this case various internet images of different ice cream flavors.  (Requires projector and screen).  Simply narrate your way through the slides, asking questions and making comments as you flip through.

Experiment with different formats, beginning with those that seem easiest for you to execute, allowing you and the class to remain comprehensible and interesting.

Literacy Extensions:

*To practice writing their names while creating a simple bar graph, have each student write/copy his/her Hebrew name  (from a prepared slide or chart) on a sticky note and ‘vote’ in the appropriate survey column. (In this case the column titles will be preferred flavors of ice cream.)

*Create a brief reading on the board in real time by writing sentences from the discussion and model reading them aloud.  Ask students to join in if they want, otherwise visually track the words as you read.

*Write up a ‘class story’ – a series of patterned statements based on the conversation –  and a sentence about each student -and read it to the class.  

Kids of many ages (not just the youngest!) love to illustrate their class story page – experiment with giving a few minutes/crayons to do this – the resulting ‘book’ is a lot more inviting to read.

Writing/Dictation:

*Point to written class list of students’ names – this is good to have on chart paper for all to see and decode throughout the year. 

Do target language dictations on dry erase boards, (lowers anxiety), one sentence at a time.  We want sound and meaning already in their heads when they come to a writing/reading task.  Let’s say we want to dictate these 3 sentences:


1.  Alisa loves Moose Tracks ice cream.      .עליזה אוהבת גלידת מוס טרקס

2.  Talia has an allergy to chocolate.            .לטליה יש אלרגיה לשוקולד

3.  Gavriel loves Mint Chip.              .גבריאל אוהב גלידת שוקולד מנטה  

The purpose of dictation, for our setting:

  • Associating sound and meaning to the letters/ written word
  • Hebrew cursive letter formation (muscle memory)
  • Building student confidence

Follow the dictation protocol below, keeping dictated sentences short and simple to guarantee student success.  

Before starting, briefly discuss behavioral expectations regarding dry erase board/materials use.

For example:

We respect these materials, insuring that they can be used again and again by:

  • not tapping, scratching, doodling, throwing, etc.
  • demonstrating we understand my instructions

Back to the task: 

Students write the one sentence they hear on lined side of dry erase board.  

Hebrew alphabet poster -block and manuscript letters -at front of room.

Teacher repeats the sentence aloud as requested.

Teacher circulates and notices non-standard inventive spelling/letter formation.  It’s OK!  Spelling emerges over time from reading.  It probably won’t be accurate to start.  Resist your impulse to correct student work!

After students have attempted to write it, teacher models/writes correct sentence in large cursive print on the board.  Students are noticing how you form your letters, so write big, slowly and clearly here.  We give them a minute to compare their version with yours, noticing differences, then students copy the correct version below their initial attempt.  Afterwards they may erase, or if they want and there’s room, go on to another dictated comprehensible sentence.  

Briefly point out ‘final letters’ in Hebrew, or other surface features.  

Students look at the 2 versions, then erase or continue same protocol for next sentence.

See my related blog post:  http://cmovan.edublogs.org/2016/09/22/demystifying-hebrew-literacy-part-1/

Practice Hebrew classroom survival phrases by having students follow your commands:

  • pick up/put down boards/markers
  • uncap/close markers
  • write/ erase

By laying in these instructions, you insure that you can conduct subsequent dictation activities entirely in Hebrew.  All repeated class routines, such as materials distribution and collection, are worthy of laying in in the target language, since they will come up over and over again.  Materials management is a great way to provide concrete language and allow students to demonstrate their understanding with a performance task.

Read about Classroom Hebrew survival phrases here:

http://cmovan.edublogs.org/2017/03/21/survival-for-the-comprehensible-hebrew-classroom/

and find my Classroom Survival Expressions when you scroll down on the Hebrew Corpus.

Teach, write, establish meaning and point to the Hebrew words, “Please repeat/Again” so that students can self-advocate whenever necessary.

I recommend not sacrificing more than 5-7 minutes at the end of CI class time for dictation.  It serves as a brain break & alternative literacy activity, and to help develop recognition of the letters and their formation, but focus on your primary goal of driving acquisition by providing a flood of compelling, comprehensible input. 

Everything I learned about Dictation, before trying it and tweaking it in my own elementary classroom, I learned from master CI French instructor, Ben Slavic.  See his Dicteé protocol, here.

Summary Of T/CI-Aligned Practices:

All this personalized surveying at the beginning of the school year and throughout, serves several crucial purposes in the Comprehensible Input framework:

  1. Provides lots of connected, compelling, tailored Comprehensible Input at the discourse level
  2. Provides massed exposure through repetition of hi-frequency practical language
  3. Slowly builds students’ stamina for processing conversational /discourse-level Ivrit
  4. Builds a community that is warm & playful, where each individual feels known and therefore safe
  5. Establishes class norms and behaviors, by pointing them out/modeling norms if/when there are infractions
  6. Sends a strong message that in this class, we communicate primarily in Hebrew – that you understand – to build our Hebrew skills

Caveat On Survey Questions:

We want interesting info without being too personal or potentially sensitive (asking abt parents if there is divorce; asking about a pet when someone’s dog just died, etc.)

SOME SAFE TOPICS FOR INTEREST SURVEYS:

(Advise older students that only vetted and appropriate topics will be included in this class)

-Favorite ice cream flavor ‘Which ice cream do you love?’, fruit, etc.

-Favorite childhood picture book

-Do you have a pet/ pet name – non pet owners can pick a dream pet (including fantasy pets – here we offer cognates like dragon, flamingo, gorilla, etc.)

-TV – possibilities are endless but must be appropriate – train your Ss to suggest only ideas appropriate for a the setting – no violence, romance, swearing, etc.

-Least/favorite – restaurant; chores; vegetables 

-(Least)/favorite book/movie; or character (or any art form)

-(Least)/favorite place to hang out (specific) other than school

-(Least)/favorite music type/song/artist

-Dream vacation – where (specific)?

-Is your room neat or messy?  ?החדר שלך מסודר או יש בלאגן

-Secret talent

-Secret fear (all secrets can be invented – this is Hebrew class – where anything is possible!)

Again, we the teacher are very interested in our students’ answers, we are teaching to the eyes, spinning the conversation out of the (sometimes fantasy) ‘facts’ we are collecting – comparing and contrasting – extending the language and getting lots of repetition; recording the info visually and/or in writing – via info graphic and/or a class story.

Here is another survey questionairre you may be able to use – click on “See Inside” above the graphic.

https://teachables.scholastic.com/teachables/books/Student-Interest-Survey-9780439303026_028.html

Whew.  A lot to think about at first.  How much language?  When to establish meaning by writing on the board?  How often to circle, and which parts?  (Go for the verb-containing chunk!)  You will try it, and it will get easier.  Like the language itself, you’ll begin to acquire some practices with automaticity, freeing up your brain space for other concerns.  Your skills will grow!!  The main thing is to get started, give it a try, and watch your students bask and thrive in a warm pool of compelling, comprehensible input!

*Terry Waltz, PhD.  See Hebrew ‘Super 7’ verbs here – scroll down to page 15.

Starting The Year #1: Build A Solid Foundation With PQA

Where to begin?

Starting the year in a proficiency-oriented Hebrew classroom, where we aim to soak our students in compelling and comprehensible messages, can seem like a daunting task, particularly for teachers new to the strategies, and students who haven’t really heard a lot of connected Hebrew-for-communication before.  With any luck, this series of posts will serve as ‘Golden Rails’ to follow, on this first exciting leg of your Teaching with Comprehensible Input (T/CI) journey.

Personalization & Circling Through Surveying

First, select a compelling topic of interest

Criteria:  

  1. Is it developmentally appropriate & compelling for the age group, and topically appropriate for the setting?  
  2. Is it simple, concrete, and can you support it with visuals – gestures, dramatization, sketches, images, props, etc.?

Say I decided to comprehensibly circle the survey question,  “Which ice cream do you love?”  ?איזה גלידה את אוהבת

I might:  

  • Point to the interrogative poster, ?איזה pausing after I say the word
  • Pretend to hold and lick my (imaginary) ice cream cone
  • Draw a sketch of an ice cream cone and an arrow pointing to the scoop – soon after I say the word and gesture its meaning
  • Write the word  גלידה  with the English translation words, ‘ice cream’ clearly below it, in a contrasting color
  • Slowly pause and point, indicating the ‘Super 7’* hi-frequency verb, אוהב/אוהבת  
  • Gesture the ‘love/s’ verb by forming a heart shape with my hands near my heart
  • Check for comprehension, by repeating the Hebrew question, then asking a student, “What am I asking?”

Let’s assume that during the course of my conversation, surveying student after student, I get lots of repetition of similar sentences that contain ‘love’ and it’s negation, ‘doesn’t/don’t love.’

Say I learned from this initial survey question that:

•Tova loves Mint Chocolate Chip

•Gavriel loves Rocky Road

•Alisa loves Moose Tracks, etc.

I can include my own opinion on ice cream, thereby inserting the אני pronoun and voice, as in,

אני לא אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה’

As I ask each of my students’ preferred flavor, I compare and contrast loves and dislikes as I move about the room.

‘Tova, you love Mint Chocolate, but you don’t love Rocky Road?  Class, who loves Rocky Road?   I really love Moose Tracks…and you, Gavriel, do you love Mint…?’  

If I wanted, I could offer cognate flavor choices in advance, writing them on the board and pausing/pointing each time.  

Otherwise, I write down the flavors in Hebrew or English (names of ice cream are not the goal of the lesson, but do offer opportunities for success in decoding.)  

RESOURCE:  Familiarize yourself with many borrowed name flavors written in Hebrew with this Hebrew ice cream menu

These are only a few of the many flavors on the menu!

If your class already has solid letter/sound recognition of the Hebrew alphabet, then you may choose, if possible, to project this ice cream menu and decode it together as a class at the end of the oral surveying phase, (skip over the non-cognate flavors – they won’t have meaning) or print it out.  Alternatively, copy only the direct cognate flavors onto chart paper, making your own more limited but comprehensible menu.

Back to my students and their flavors:

I notice that all three of the above students love ice cream with chocolate in it.  “Ahhh, Tova likes Mint Chip, Gavriel likes Rocky Road and Alisa likes Moose Tracks…they all have chocolate!” – I write the word for ‘has’ in both languages to establish meaning.  I gesture ‘has’  by cupping my open hands side by side as if I’m scooping up water.  I insure comprehension by telling the students that this is my gesture for יש /have/has.

I encourage the students to use the gestures, too, every time they hear the word.

Then I ask the class and/or individual student for confirmation:  

“Class, does Mint Chip ice cream have chocolate?”

“Avi, does Rocky Road ice cream have chocolate?” 

“Ya’akov, does Moose Tracks ice cream have chocolate?”

“Class, does Banana ice cream have chocolate?”  

I can ask about as many flavors that were mentioned in class as I want – following the demonstrated group interest and energy in the room.

Now, I have used two important hi-frequency verbs in context, ‘love/s’ and ‘have/has’ with their negations, ‘doesn’t love,’ and ‘doesn’t have.’  I am gesturing, pausing/pointing and spot-checking for comprehension as I extend a conversation based on the information I’ve collected.  I’m noticing trends in ice cream preference, comparing & contrasting, grouping, counting, and confirming, all within this narrow set of language in use.  

I am staying ‘in bounds.’

I make sure to ask a full question each time;  that way the verb-containing chunks (love/s; has/have) are always repeated.  I gesture the heart shape for ‘loves’ and my hand cupping  ‘have/has’ gesture, whenever the words arise. 

‘Tova loves Mint Chip, yes, Tova?  You love…? Class, she loves Mint Chip but she doesn’t love…Banana?  Tova, do you love Banana?

Class she does love Mint Chip….’

I check for comprehension regularly.  What does ‘יש’ mean?“  “What does this (heart gesture) mean?” 

“What does, גבריאל לא אוהב גלידת בננה  mean?”  

Then I move on to a different student, Ester, and ask her what kind of ice cream Tova likes; ask someone else to confirm Alisa’s favorite ice cream, etc. In this way I am constantly recycling the language, checking to make sure the information was understood, and extending the conversation to include more participants.  All the while we are communicating and learning about each other as we build our light-hearted community.

I continue comparing and contrasting students and their favorite ice cream until I’ve surveyed everyone in class.  I may introduce the connecting words, ‘but,’ and ‘also/too’ as in, ‘I like Moose Tracks ice cream, but Ya’akov loves lemon ice cream.’  Or, ‘Ya’akov loves lemon ice cream and Smadar loves it, too.’

Rule of thumb:  If it feels automatic and effortless for the students to understand, then you are in the Sweet Spot.  Resist the temptation to pile on more new language.  Wait ’til next time.  And these new words will have to undergo the full treatment:

-Using them in context

-Writing them on the board with translation, to establish meaning

Pause-point-slow
-Use a gesture / image / prop

-Comprehension check

Some students like fruity flavors.  I ask Talia if she (also) likes Moose Tracks.  I establish meaning of the word ‘also,’ pausing and pointing to it on the board with each subsequent use, and doing comprehension checks intermittently.  She exclaims (in English – no worries) that she’s ‘allergic to chocolate.’  !היא אלרגית לשוקולד

Hurray! a direct cognate.  I walk over and tell Tova, Gavriel and Alisa the news – each separately, that Talia doesn’t like their specific ice cream – because she’s allergic (If you choose to use it, establish meaning of ‘because’ on the board in both languages).

How long the oral survey/classroom banter carries on depends on your growing skill in maintaining interest and understanding.  We try to reach all the kids in the class in one session, so pace yourself accordingly!

In the next Starting the Year post, learn how to be repetitive without seeming repetitious as you circle your way through PQA….Or is it repetitious without seeming repetitive?  

Story Extensions: 1. Visual Reinforcement

In my recent Basic Quest Story blogpost, I recounted my first comprehensible input (Spanish) story from a few years ago, about a sushi-loving T-Rex named “Guácala,” (which means, “Yuk” in Spanish).  I have dedicated over 90 minutes of (1st grade) instruction to the drama SO FAR, and the kids show no signs of story fatigue.  To be fair, our 3x week 30 minute lessons also include a greeting and leave-taking segment, a circle-time name tag-passing snippet, and at least two brain bursts or breaks, in which the kids get up and move according to my Spanish instructions.

To review, first we nailed the simple story orally over the course of a few class periods and came up with these layered on details, with the help of my very special puppet:

There is a dinosaur.  His name is Guácala.
Guácala, the dinosaur is hungry.
Guácala doesn’t like:  Pizza, yogurt, steak, bananas, or broccoli.  ¡Guácale!  [Yuk!]
Guácala likes sushi.  Only sushi.

The children heard tons of variations of what the T-Rex likes and doesn’t like, fed the dinosaur, pet him, watched him reject food, exclaimed, “¡Guácala!” with and for him, until they were clear on his dislikes and preference.

Next, I ushered the 1st graders to the chair zone of my classroom, where I have a SmartBoard/screen.  There, I showed and narrated a picture story slideshow (which you can access here), ascertaining more personalized details.

Having worked in the community for a long time, I am quite familiar with popular eating and shopping destinations.  I incorporated these into the slideshow to model the inclusion of details with group appeal.

On the cover slide, I have a clipart image of Guácala with some sushi, and some ‘thumbs up’ icons, as an opportunity to review the gesture for ‘likes.’

Subsequent slides pair new images with prior oral language.  This time, the dinosaur says, “I’m hungry,” and “I love sushi.”

To add episodic repetition and an opportunity for movement in this Basic Quest Story,  the dino goes to three different locations to attempt to solve his problem and find sushi.  First, he goes to the most popular local family eatery, Little Ricky’s.  This restaurant adventure affords the opportunity to try some (cognate) foods Little Ricky’s  (LR) has on their menu.  Here I ask real questions, whose answers only my 1st grade experts know, like:  Do you like LR?  Does LR have:  Pizza, steak, tortillas, etc.?  Does the dino like pizza, steak, tortillas?  Does LR have sushi?  Does Guácala like LR?  Is Guácala happy?

(NOTE:   If I so chose, I could have incorporated other forms of travel to LR – i.e. Guácala walks/swims/runs/marches/rides a bus/submarine/motorcycle to Little Ricky’s….more on padding the basic story in a later post?)

Next, I had Guácala go to the local pizzeria, Marco Roma, in search of sushi.  Many pre- and emergent readers recognized the restaurant logo from my slide and were therefore able to successfully identify it!

Same treatment as for Little Ricky’s – but an entree list including pizza, salad, spaghetti and ravioli.  All cognates.

Finally, Guácala goes (drives his minivan?) to Costco (where all roads lead.) The kids love the very mention of Costco, and glaze over with memories of bite-size samples.

Then comes the $64,000.00 question:

Does Costco have sushi?

It turns out, they do!  And lots and lots of it!  Guácala is very, very happy!  He and his dino friend (Barney) eat and eat and eat…and in the last slide, two dinosaurs are wading and sipping in a shallow lake, because after gorging on sushi, they’re thirsty.

More on more dino shenanigans to come!

Anatomy of a Basic Quest Story a la CI

I hope this blogpost finds you well and off to a great start in your comprehensible Hebrew classrooms.  Here’s to a year filled with health, love, joy, meaning and Hebrew language acquisition!

If you are new to teaching with comprehensible input (T/CI), the strategies outlined and referred to in many of my other blog posts represent a real shift in teacher-student interactions and classroom practices, and may take a while to sink in.  Go easy on yourself, knowing that whatever procedures you employ that align with Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research and interesting, understandable messages, provided by a ‘language parent’ and for language learner/s, are probably better than anything you served up with a textbook, verb chart or thematic vocabulary list!

Many a Comprehensible Input teacher has concluded, “A bad day teaching with CI is still better [more fun and effective] than the Old Way!”

When I first migrated to T/CI strategies, I used a puppet to ask a basic Quest Story* in my 1st grade Spanish class. [I was so excited by the kids’ reaction that I repeated it up through grade 4 – and they all LOVED it!]   I chose the puppet carefully – he’s a gold-skinned red-mouthed T-Rex with pointy teeth – years ago my brother gave him to one of my own sons as a birthday present.  I considered good ole’ Rex a sentimental amulet who would protect me from flopping –  and he did not disappoint.  I decided to ask the simplest and most concrete story for my little ones, so I planned my props beforehand.

With my pretend mini-grocery cart loaded with plastic cognate foods beside me, I introduced the dinosaur to my group. (Dinosaur, as it happens, is a cognate in both Spanish and Hebrew, as are the foods I’m using in this example.)  Here’s an English translation of the story I built, entirely in the Target Language (TL – in this case Spanish):

ME:  Class!  What is it?  Is it a flamingo?  [No.]  No, class!   It’s not a flamingo!  That’s crazy!  It’s obviously not a flamingo! [negate/confirm]

Hmmm, class is it a toucan?  [No!]

I begin to walk around the circle, allowing the students a closer look.  Some pet the dinosaur.  They are entering my magical story-world… I roar playfully at some of the kids… peck others on the cheek with the dino’s snout.

ME:  Class, it’s not a flamingo and it’s not a toucan.  It’s a gorilla!

‘NO!!’ they shout.  ‘It’s a dinosaur!’

ME:  Ahh, it’s a dinosaur?  [Yes!!]  Ahh.  It IS a dinosaur.  [confirm] Hmmm…

I have the puppet whisper in my ear, shushing the class to hear better.  You can hear a pin drop!

ME:  Class!  The dinosaur has a problem!  (I place my open hands on either side of my chin.  They know/I’ve trained them to answer this gesture with the rejoinder, “Oh, no!  Oh, no!” See rejoinders on the Hebrew Corpus.)

ME:  Yes, class.  The dinosaur is hungry!

I rub my own stomach – then I rub the puppet’s – then I ask a comprehension check question:  I ask, ‘What is “Tiene hambre?”‘  “He’s hungry!” they answer chorally.  I ask the dino, directly, ‘Are you hungry?’  He whispers in my ear and I confirm back to the group:  “Yes, class!  The dinosaur is hungry!”  (Mental checklist:  So far I’ve used ‘It’s a…’ as well as ‘is hungry’ and their negations.)  

Note:  All this classroom banter, aside from the comprehension check/answer is in the Target Language (TL).

ME:  Class, am I hungry, or is the dinosaur hungry?   [The dinosaur!]  Oh, I’m not hungry!  The dino is hungry!

Next I have the dino taste a selection of foods.

Here comes the last new targeted chunk for the time being.  I take out a piece of plastic steak from the grocery cart.  The kids shift and anticipate the puppet devouring the meat!

ME:  Class, does the dinosaur like steak? (I gesture with a thumbs up, and do a comprehension check).  [YES!!]

I place the ‘meat’ in the dinosaur’s bright mouth.  He ‘chews’ on it for a couple of seconds…and then spits it onto the floor with great fanfare, exclaiming, “¡Guácala!”    “Yuk!!”    “!!איכס”

The kids find this ill-mannered and unpredictable creature…funny!  They begin to chuckle and whisper!

KIDS:   She has other stuff to feed it in her cart!

ME:  Class, does the dinosaur like the steak?   [No].  No, he doesn’t like steak!  (The word ‘carnivore’ is a cognate in Spanish AND Hebrew, so I throw it in for kicks…)  Is the dinosaur a carnivore?

I ask the puppet directly, ‘Do you like steak?’  He spits it out again and this time some of the kids are saying, “¡Guácala!” for him.  Now that’s a high-interest rapidly acquired word!

ME:  Hmmm, class, does the dinosaur like…(pasta/spaghetti/yogurt/melon/chocolate/banana/hamburger)?

You can take your pick of the cognate foods – there’s a list here on my Hebrew Corpus.

I have him try each new food in turn, allowing my hungry friend to chew, munch or bite before dramatically spitting it out on the floor, with an emphatic, “¡Guácala!”   (“Yuk!!”    “!!איכס”)  The kids find it hysterical!

I lay the rejected foods, one by one, in a neat line before me, for later revisiting.

(I highly recommend you follow the energy in the room – if the students are patient and willing to continue feeding different foods to dino, then keep it going!  These are opportunities to keep continuous contextualized and compelling chunks of language pouring into their ears and brains, with plenty of repetition!  Set aside your own reaction to the repetition, and respond to their interest….)

As the end of class nears, I insure closure.  Either I decide before-hand, or in the moment determine the fussy T-Rex’s favored meal.  Best case scenario – as in the dino story- the idea comes from a student suggestion.

So far I have used most of my 30 minutes to provide compelling & comprehensible input at my students’ level, and they are eating out of my hand!!  Everyone who wants a chance to touch or feed the hungry dino gets one, and I wrap language around each interaction, making sure to use my students’ names.  Everyone likes to hear his/her name!

I hear a kid suggest a funny idea…so I rummage around for my set of rubber sushi at the bottom of my grocery cart.

ME:  Class, does the dinosaur like…sushi???

There are whispers all around.  “I love/hate sushi!”  “Sushi is my favorite/is disgusting!”

Rex tears into a California Roll and chomps thoughtfully.  Anticipation hangs in the air…

ME/REX:  “Mmmmm, !Sí!  Me gusta el sushi!”  [Yes!  I like sushi!]

He roars to the group!  I give volunteers the opportunity to feed him sushi.  He gobbles noisily.  I narrate (in Spanish) each interaction in the TL.

ME/REX:  Dino likes sushi!  Mmm, thank you, José!   It’s my favorite, thanks, Marina!

He eats and eats and eats and eats…because he is very, very, very, very hungry, and he really, really, really, really likes sushi!

As the group files out of class, a student gleefully offers, “¡Señora Shapiro!  We should name the dinosaur, ‘¡Guácala!’ because he says it so much!”

Meet Guácala, the main character of my first ever T/CI story.  Here he is, contemplating the steak:

In my next post, I’ll talk about ways to extend this simple Quest Story and keep the excitement going, even for older students!

 

*From thewritersworkshop.net:  “…The goal for the Quest [Story is to] encourage a sense of seeking, questioning and curiosity, propelling readers forward into the narrative. It gives a structure and suspense to a piece that might otherwise be flat and static.”

What The Avi Chai Hebrew Report Tells Us (And What It Doesn’t)

The long awaited Avi Chai Foundation Hebrew report, Hebrew For What? Hebrew at the Heart of Jewish Day Schools, was released this month, and is enjoying broad discussion and commentary among Hebrew educators and administrators.

While I read it closely and with great interest, I was left scratching my head, surprised both by its content, and by what failed to make its way into the hefty 64-page volume.

On this Pesach 5777, our season of fundamental questions, let’s start with the report’s Executive Summary, which, right off the bat, outlines some of my concerns.   As the summary opens, its researcher/authors lament the difficult and complex task of teaching Hebrew, due to the multiple purposes that the Hebrew curriculum serves (studying both classical sacred texts, and acquiring modern Hebrew communication skills) in a day school setting.  The authors seem to be seeking readers’ leniency by describing a nearly impossible feat, relating that Hebrew faculty is hard to find; instructional minutes are hard to come by; parental demands add stress; maintaining older students’ interest is challenging; and my personal favorite, the non-Romanized alphabet makes Hebrew harder to learn than other commonly taught world languages, such as Spanish and French.

Before we continue, I say we need to come to some common understanding about what it is we are trying to accomplish with Hebrew in the day school classroom, refine and articulate our goals regarding Hebrew instruction, and align our teaching with our goals.  I believe that a better handle on Second Languages Acquisition (SLA) research, which is, lamentably, all but absent from the Avi Chai report, will aid our grasp of the issues above, and how to address them.

Big Idea #1:  Humans acquire language one way only –  by understanding messages (Chomsky/Krashen).  If we want our students to acquire Hebrew for any purpose, sacred or secular, conversational or literary, then we must begin by delivering comprehensible input, aural/oral and written messages that they can understand and that are so compelling that they attend to them effortlessly and automatically.

The Avi Chai report researchers uncover a curious trend in their surveys.  The day school kids, they report, seem to be losing their Hebrew ability after fifth grade!   Interestingly, this deterioration of skill in not found elsewhere in the literature among students of other languages, nor is the Hebrew phenomenon explained in the report within any SLA framework.  So I offer these fundamental questions:

Could it be that after 5th grade, many Hebrew programs shift from a more experiential, conversational, compelling comprehensible input (CCI)-rich communicative model, to a high-stakes grammar and vocabulary-heavy memorize-and-test grind (unsupported by any SLA research)?

Could it be that after 5th grade, Hebrew is no longer used as the lingua franca of the classroom, but that upper level teachers talk (in English) about how Hebrew’s grammar and syntax, morphology and phonology work?  Such a focus on the surface of the language in lieu of language as a tool for communication is also unsupported by any of the best-practice research, and would come at the expense of CCI and its attendant student comfort and engagement.  As the amount of CCI, overall program interest and therefore quality decline, so do student outcomes.

Could it be that some programs abandon communicating in modern Hebrew altogether after 5th grade, instead shifting their limited instructional minutes to classical sacred texts – using mostly English?  This possibility would most certainly render the class less conducive to Hebrew language acquisition.

Recommendations:  Create and defend an early start-long sequence modern Hebrew language program, rich in CCI, that broadens students’ linguistic foundation from year to year.  Insure that the content is compelling by incorporating student interests and ideas.  Integrate lots more reading into the program from an early age, with literacy materials connected to and based on the acquired aural/oral language.  Reading compounds language gains, and can be leveraged for the study of sacred texts.  The handicap of a non-Romanized alphabet can be overcome if students are exposed to appropriate reading materials over the long haul.  Protect the time dedicated to modern Hebrew instruction; it is different from sacred text study, and should not be substituted at the beginner-to-intermediate levels. Educate faculty, parents and students about your new (department-wide!) approach.  Demonstrate CCI lessons at go-to-school-night, which is sure to create a buzz.  Parents will be more likely to support you if their children are happy and successfully learning, and they understand the framework and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Watch student enthusiasm take off and soar, alongside acquisition.  While face to face modern Hebrew communication will grow proportionately with the amount of quality CCI, it will not keep pace with the complex concepts, parables, allegories and commentaries contained in the Hebrew sacred texts.  Either these will have to be adapted for beginner to intermediate Hebrew learners’ needs, or their study will have to take place in English, or in combination of Hebrew and English, whichever arrangement best meets the linguistic needs of the students.  We cannot hope to teach beginners’ basic modern Hebrew for daily communication, and Talmud Torah as it appears in its original form, on the same day.  It’s like reading a high school social studies textbook to a kindergartner!  We must adapt our Hebrew texts to meet the needs of our learners, insure our students are engaged and comfortable – NOT STRESSED OUT or made to feel inadequate.  A high affective filter can be a major obstacle to language acquisition, so we must be vigilant that we aren’t freaking out our kids, or they will tune out and turn off.  And researchers will conclude that they are ‘losing their Hebrew language,’ when it’s really the program, itself, that has lost its way.

If it’s not clear by now, I am advocating for two (or more) entirely separate classes: modern Hebrew, and ‘Judaics’/sacred texts.  Let’s treat modern Hebrew like the secular subject it is – like Spanish or French – and inform our instruction with both the tenets of Second Language Acquisition research and the intuitive strategies that have been embraced by thousands of world language teachers over the past 20+ years.  Of course we’ll apply and enjoy the strong modern Hebrew literacy skills our students develop over in their classical Judaics/Talmud & Torah classroom, where they’ll also benefit from the linguistic knowledge they’ve gained in modern Hebrew class (general vocabulary, familiar verb forms, prefixes, transition words, etc.)  The sounds and meanings are already in their heads!  By starting with language for meaning – modern Ivrit –  we will build capacity for the more intellectual pursuit of classical text analysis by prioritizing and insuring the development of comprehension, literacy skills, interest and confidence.

Big Idea #2:  Listening comprehension and reading, the receptive/input skills, precede writing and speaking, the productive/output skills (Read this blog post).

Among other benefits, familiarity with this basic tenet of SLA research helps manage student, parent, teacher, administrator (and researcher) expectations. Students require copious amounts of CCI before they are able to produce the target language at the discourse level.  “A flood of input for a trickle of output,” according to linguistics Professor Wynn Wong.  And yet, according to the Avi Chai report researchers,
           “At a few, although not all, of the schools we visited, we observed classes in which students’ speaking proficiency was evidently poorer in the higher grades than in lower ones.  While elementary school students responded in Hebrew to their teachers’ promptings, and seemed able to express themselves quite fluently in Israeli-accented Hebrew, by the time they reached the higher grades students struggled to express themselves. They groped to find the vocabulary to convey their thoughts.  Even where the rule in class was to speak only in Hebrew, students would often opt to find the right phrase in English before reverting to Hebrew.” (p. 29)
Could it be that the elementary teacher-prompted responses required only a perfunctory one word or short answer, demonstrating the students’ listening comprehension, whereas the upper school request demanded Hebrew speaking above the students’ level of acquisition, and at the discourse level?  Is the latter task reasonable, and does it reflect understanding of the SLA research?  Rather than bemoaning their students’ low interpersonal Hebrew proficiency, teachers (and researchers) must instead learn how students acquire, appreciate the natural stages of language emergence (not forced output), discern what kind of production is typical for the amount of CCI they’ve received, and ascertain how to continuously engage students in a Hebrew language-rich atmosphere.  Expectations are lower in the lower school, but then, suddenly, at the higher levels, students are expected to make a developmental leap, even as the quantity and quality of language input is diminished.
Recommendations:  Teachers and researchers are encouraged to master the theoretical underpinnings of SLA as well as the pedagogy that aligns with it, to get a better grasp of appropriate expectations for language output.  Continued high quality CCI, the driver of language acquisition, is as important as ever in the upper grades.
Big Ideas #3 & #4:  When the classroom messages are compelling, listening and engagement are greater; By personalizing and customizing comprehensible messages through class-elicited scenes, stories and images, interest skyrockets, and we optimize the input.
It’s hard to tell from the Avi Chai report just how interesting (or not) the general content of modern Hebrew classes is (at the places they studied), though stakeholders’ complaints seem to suggest a general disinterest in Hebrew class particularly at the upper levels.  Either the content or the instruction (or both) are souring students’ attitude.
What can we do about it?
Recommendation:  We need to take a sober look at our content.  Many schools embrace a pre-fabricated all inclusive curriculum that blends modern Hebrew with Judaics and prayerbook Hebrew, killing many proverbial birds with a single stone.  But they are, regrettably, also killing student (and teacher) interest and engagement, because the set curriculum is…OK I’ll say it:  mind-numbingly boring.   Set curricula often ‘covers’ static and humorless topics about which the students are not interested or passionate; nor do many of the themes incorporate the highest frequency words for greatest linguistic coverage.
So how can we insure that all students will be interested and remain engaged in the banter of our daily classes?  By involving them in the creation of the content!  By including their hobbies and passions in class stories and conversations!  By surveying their interests, and intentionally inserting this personalized information into the ‘curriculum!’  By, once knowing our students well, finding stories, video clips, commercials, poetry and songs, etc. that appeal to our group!   Once we accept that modern Hebrew is separate from Judaics/sacred texts, we are free to converse on an endless array of fiction/real topics, so long as our messages are compelling and comprehensible, and contribute to an ever-widening linguistic foundation.  By starting with student interest rather than imposing a prefab or teacher-driven curriculum, we guarantee broader relevance and authenticity, we build a community where individuals feel known and recognized, and we engage in pleasant conversation, in which all students have a foothold.
We democratize the language classroom!
Whew.  Perhaps those are enough big ideas to chew on for one blog post.
The Avi Chai report sheds light on stakeholders’ negative attitudes about Hebrew instruction, informing the quagmire in which we find ourselves.  I contend (with no blame) that often vague and contradictory instructional goals, poor and/or spotty Hebrew language teacher training, limited support and quality materials, all uninformed by SLA research, have landed us in this predicament.
The good news is, we can address our dire situation immediately and to great effect.  If my own teaching experiment is any indication, stakeholders are all eager to learn a better way.  The light and humorous beginners’ Hebrew scenes and stories are a welcome respite from the drudgery of grammar paradigms and vocabulary lists, nonsense words both spoken and copied into מחברות (notebooks).  Teachers, students and parents all report renewed enthusiasm for Comprehensible Hebrew, and kids look forward to class.
Recommendations:  Let’s re-think what we’re doing – but through the lens of Second Language Acquisition research.  Acquiring language isn’t like learning chemistry or social studies.  It’s an unconscious process.  It’s driven by compelling, comprehensible input.  Let’s rebuild our community’s confidence in Hebrew instruction as a worthwhile endeavor by demonstrating success after success.  What constitutes that success?  Our students will have a joyful experience in effective Hebrew classes; they will feel capable and successful at acquiring, comprehending and utilizing Hebrew, and they will embrace it as their own.

Hebrew Through Movement And TPR

When I first embarked on my Reimagining Hebrew Instruction project, I scoured the internet for Comprehensible Input-aligned modern Hebrew resources for my classroom and blog.  I found close to nothing, and I do mean, כלום.

One link that kept popping up in my searches was עִבְרִית בִּתְנוּעָה – Hebrew Through Movement (HTM).  Turns out this is a popular program, and has been adopted by many synagogue-based supplementary Hebrew schools.

I won’t denounce it or any SLA research-aligned approach that purports to improve the experience and outcomes for our Hebrew learners (acquirers), though I do have issues with HTM.

What is  עִבְרִית בִּתְנוּעָה  – Hebrew Through Movement – and what’s my beef with it?

According to its website description, Hebrew Through Movement (HTM) is:

“…a language acquisition strategy in which students learn Hebrew by hearing and responding to Hebrew commands.  עִבְרִית בִּתְנוּעָה is an adaptation of James J. Asher’s Total Physical Response (TPR).[1]  While TPR was designed by Asher as the foundation of a full language program, it has also been effective in situations with limited language goals.   Hebrew Through Movement is being used in Jewish congregations, day schools, camps, early childhood programs and other settings.  This curriculum guide for עִבְרִית בִּתְנוּעָה starts with a foundation in modern Hebrew, but has as its goal making the prayers in our siddur, as well as synagogue and Jewish vocabulary, more easily accessible to those with limited learning time.  HTM does not teach communicative Hebrew, but students can easily move on to other Hebrew forms.” (Bold mine).

My first wondering is one of focus and purpose.  If HTM calls itself a ‘language acquisition strategy,’ then, since language is a tool for communication, it ought to teach communicative Hebrew skills.  But the above explanation clearly specifies that HTM does not.

Also, HTM severely constrains a powerful and research-endorsed tool, TPR, to make isolated “synagogue and Jewish vocabulary” accessible to students.  But, to what end?  What are our kids supposed to be able to do with those isolated terms?  Wouldn’t a program claiming to teach Modern Hebrew be better off using such a communicative tool as it was intended –  for real communication? And, if the purpose of HTM is also familiarity with the artifacts and observances of Jewish life, then why teach those thematic targets through movement?  Why beat around the bush?  Just call a shofar a shofar!

Furthermore, if the goal is to familiarize kids with siddur prayers, then how does slathering on dozens of modern Hebrew verbs, (served up only in the infinitive form,) help us reach that goal?

עִבְרִית בִּתְנוּעָה (HTM) started with the great idea of exploiting TPR, an ideal conduit for delivering Comprehensible Input, so our kids could hear the sounds and cadence of our Israeli mother tongue. In TPR students respond to the instructor’s commands through whole body movement rather than words.  “Students are not asked to speak, only to try to understand and obey the command.” (Krashen, 1998)*

But then, to my mind,  HTM meandered astray, attempting to stuff and cover all the traditional Hebrew school content – language, religion, prayer, holidays, customs & traditions –  with this one tool-turned-curricular package.

Surely Modern Hebrew overlaps with specific ‘synagogue and Jewish vocabulary’ and prayer words from the siddur.  But if we limit our Modern Hebrew instruction to a field delineated by this religious/cultural criteria, our kids won’t come away experiencing Hebrew as a World Language for communication, and certainly won’t engage in real-world Hebrew usage.  We must provide a flood of comprehensible, compelling and contextualized Hebrew for our students to acquire it – not merely commands using pre-selected Jewish lifecycle vocabulary.

Can TPR help us facilitate Hebrew language acquisition?  Absolutely!  TPR is an effective and appropriate comprehensible input tool for language teachers, and has the added benefit of providing much needed and developmentally appropriate movement and brain breaks to our young students. But is a steady diet of action commands, based on Jewish artifacts and prayers a la HTM, compelling to kids?  I think not.

Dr. Krashen writes, “TPR is not a complete method.  It cannot do the entire job of language teaching, nor was it designed to do this.  For beginners, there are several other powerful means of supplying comprehensible input, means that utilize other ways of making input comprehensible (e.g. the use of background knowledge and pictures, as in story telling).”

I say, let’s use TPR in our Hebrew classrooms as a tool for delivering comprehensible input, but not exclusively.  Let’s not hijack it with a religious studies agenda – inserting prayers and isolated Jewish and synagogue words at the expense of the most practical and high-frequency foundational language.  Let’s use correct grammar in context as we need it, and not restrict our utterances to one tense, for fear of letting the conjugation cat out of the bag.  So long as we insure our messages are comprehensible, our students will acquire.

Finally, let’s deliver Hebrew messages worthy of our students’ attention – by having our kids collaborate and create with us, on scenes, stories and conversation.

Oh, and the siddur prayers probably belong in a different conversation, altogether.

*See my Hebrew Day 1 Demo; lots of TPR especially near the end.

#PRIZMAH17 Chicago Conference

I just got back from attending the Prizmah, 2017 Jewish Day School Conference which, lucky for me, is in Chicago this year.  I only heard about it a few weeks ago, so it was too late to pitch a proposal to be a presenter.  (Maybe next time?)  Instead I attended a most intriguing session:

As far as I could tell, this was the only session (among hundreds) that focused on Modern Hebrew instruction, and many respected speakers participated on the panel.  My goal was to get a read on current thinking in the field, in part, because I am obsessed with the topic, but also to gauge how ‘ready’ the day school community seems for the primacy of Comprehensible Input message.

The session was fantastic and did not disappoint.  Thanks to the wonderful panel of Hebrew leaders.

Here are some of my takeaways:

+Our pre-k-12 Jewish learning institutions, no matter how religious or what their modern Hebrew programming looks like – immersion, foreign language, content-related, lots of or limited instructional minutes – are all struggling to improve the quality and effectiveness of their modern Hebrew programs.  They are fully aware that their stakeholders (students, parents, teachers) aren’t satisfied, and that their Hebrew outcomes are generally…underwhelming.  (I wasn’t sure everyone knew, but they do.  This is very good news, indeed!)

+Our institutions are talking about embracing proficiency-oriented programming for communication.  THIS IS HUGE!   When I was a student, it was rare to question any, let alone the Audio-lingual (grammar drills) or translation teaching methods.  Now, though, our leaders realize that face to face communication does not arise from ‘slice ‘n dice’ methods that chop the language up and explain how the parts work.  Day schools want a vibrant Hebrew culture where the language is a tool for everyday communication – in the library and cafeteria, as well as the Hebrew classroom.

+Our day school leaders realize we need to create a cadre of knowledgeable teacher leaders for ongoing improvement and sustainability.  They believe in quality professional development and common experiences for our teachers.  They realize that a native Hebrew speaker does not an expert in teaching strategies make.  THIS IS GIGANTIC.

+Our day schools are willing to experiment in their buildings, tweaking the program delivery model, scheduling, offerings, team-teaching, coaching/mentoring, teacher meetings and collaboration time, peer observations, curriculum, etc.  They are finding creative ways to re-brand their programs to increase visibility, information, and positive press among the community of parents and students.  And importantly, many are willing to shine a flashlight on their existing program and perform a self audit (by an outside/objective observer) to ascertain weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.  Many are undergoing massive revision-ing.

+Many schools are finding ways to extend modern Hebrew beyond the classroom and throughout the schoolhouse by hosting Hebrew language sports classes (Krav Maga); using Hebrew in the lunchroom, and integrating Hebrew across the curriculum by singing Hebrew songs in Music class; employing Hebrew in Art, etc.

+Hebrew is gaining legitimacy by affiliation with the national parent organization, ACTFL (The American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages).  Many Jewish schools are looking to the ACTFL proficiency guidelines to set standards.  Hopefully soon there will be a Hebrew Special Interest Group (SIG) within ACTFL, as well as a National Association of Hebrew Teachers, providing more support and resources for Hebrew teachers nation-wide.

+Delet l’Ivrit through Hebrew Union College has a new university program to train Hebrew teachers with their best practices pedagogy.

And the list of innovations goes on!

HOWEVER, I do see some challenges, though I have no doubt we will clear them.

Challenges and caveats:

-Many of the day schools talk about data-driven decision making, the new ABCs of education in a post NCLB world.  But language is different than math and science, in that it is NOT CONCEPTUAL.  There are no formulas or causalities to be learned; on the contrary, language acquisition is unconscious (SD Krashen), and the key ingredient driving acquisition is comprehensible input (CI).  No one knows exactly how much input it takes until a student starts speaking (and there are many variables), but we in the field say, as a rule,  “A flood of input for a trickle of output” (Wynn Wong).  So output-based (speaking, writing) assessments for beginners are inappropriate, because these novices are still building a linguistic foundation.  Would you proctor a speaking test on a 14-month-old?  Assessments of comprehension are formative and ongoing by the well-trained T/CI instructor.  Evaluators can see in class if students demonstrate comprehension of the input; parents can see it in a video of class.  Later, once the students have built a broader linguistic base and have the literacy skills necessary, students can write and even speak more in Hebrew.  According to the research, though, practicing speaking through memorized dialogues and cloze (fill in the blank) activities is not real communication, and does not beget real communication.  (See this article on Principles for Language Teachers from my SLA comrade in arms, Chris Stolz).

-Related to assessment, above:  We must be skeptical of written level-placement tests based on discreet vocabulary items and/or speaking/writing output, especially for the novice to intermediate proficiency levels.  In fact, many placements tests, for admission to Hebrew camps, day schools, ulpanim (intensive Hebrew study programs), university and other programs, are outdated and do not align with SLA research.  Check out this study packet for Chalutzim, a 7-week Hebrew immersion camp experience that my son attended.  While he had a fantastic summer, the entrance test likely created obstacles and anxiety for many potential campers.  It sends the message, ‘If you don’t know or memorize this random list of low frequency words, you aren’t a good fit.’  Is that the pronouncement we want to convey to our 15-year-olds?  The study packet asks students to (be prepared to) memorize semantic sets (i.e. – a list of colors, nature words, numbers), but this is not how the brain acquires (Robert Waring); and potential campers are invited to study verb endings for tense formation, but this practice constitutes a focus on form, which is linguistics, not language acquisition.  Many of the language instructional practices once at Chalutzim also lack research-based alignment, and the program as a whole (and others like it) would greatly benefit from an audit and overhaul, to optimize Hebrew acquisition, its stated goal.

-Teachers and administrators must know how humans acquire language (SLA research) in order to establish and monitor an acquisition-conducive program, (as stated in my manifesto, here.)  Otherwise, we’ll be chasing our tails, trying new curricula and materials, substituting one expensive, misguided and ineffective program for another.  Our teaching strategies must align with the research.  We know that humans need comprehensible input to acquire, and that by making the input compelling, the likelihood for attending to messages is greater, optimizing our time and effort.  (Read about SLA here.)

-Many well-intentioned teachers and programs insist that their novice level youngsters speak/respond only in Hebrew, say in the cafeteria or in other school common spaces.  We call this practice, “forced output,” and it flies in the face of what we know about acquisition and the affective filter.  If a student is forced to speak in Hebrew before s/he is ready, (before the utterance comes unprompted, confidently and without hesitation), then we run the risk of raising the student’s affective filter, making him nervous/self-conscious and less likely to willingly speak the next time around.  WE MUST BE PATIENT UNTIL THE LANGUAGE FALLS FROM THEIR MOUTHS, giving students ample invitation and opportunity to speak in more supported and natural ways.  This point cannot be overstated.  Often teachers and schools feel pressure to prove that their Hebrew classes are effective, by showing what the kids can say/do with the language (“using complete sentences!”)  Instead, we must re-educate our whole community on the importance of investing our time and energies in CI, and showing how it works by:  1.  Demonstrating T/CI on parents; 2.  Inviting them to observe Hebrew class: 3.  videotaping our classes so that observers can appreciate just how much Hebrew our kids are hearing, attending to, and comprehending.  There is no research that I know of supporting forced output (“You may only speak Hebrew in gym class”) or language practice, (as in, “Repeat after me:”) as a pathway to proficiency – for beginners.  On the contrary, Comprehensible Input provides the fertile soil from which speaking and writing (output skills) grow.

-Many schools assume that teacher-made thematic units are the way to go, and map their curriculum accordingly.  But we know that young students (and most people, no?)  like to talk about one thing more than any other – themselves!  Therefore, setting a curriculum focused on exploiting the highest frequency words (& verb-containing chunks), while incorporating students’ interests and ideas through story-asking, is a fun, lively, engaging and creative way to customize classes for the group in front of you!  Using hi-frequency verb-chunks to talk about “my house” or “my morning routine” is flat and boring, while collaborative, creative and personalized stories bring light and laughter into a discipline in which the brain is already working hard!  We can decide upon a corps of foundational verbs we want to use, and recycle & add more each year to articulate a curriculum up through the grades, realizing full well that we may deviate while following student interest.  The key to good language instruction is sustaining engagement and attention to the comprehensible message, while using Hebrew all the while.

Clearly I could go on, but I’ll stop here, to bask in the knowledge that great and positive changes are within reach for Hebrew teaching and learning (acquisition)!   Change takes courage, and the Prizmah session was filled with courageous Hebrew leaders.  I believe we are ready to transform Hebrew instruction, and improve the experience and Hebrew language outcomes for our students!

I wish to be part of the wave that’s coming.  If I can help you or your institution realize your dream and re-imagine your Hebrew offering, please reach out! and we’ll set up a training for administrators, teachers, parents and/or students.

I’d love to hear your comments on the Prizmah session, and/or the future of Modern Hebrew instruction.

Let’s make it happen!

I’M ALL IN.

Training Wheels

I get it.

For a teacher, change can feel risky.  The admin and the community (parents, teachers and students) have expectations, based on observations, murmurings, your bulletin board, an Open House presentation you gave a few years back….  You have a reputation to uphold.  Plus, for years you have tweaked and streamlined and created ancillary materials to accompany the (pre-fab?) curriculum you currently use.

But it’s not really working.  The kids aren’t interested or engaged, and their language skills, growth and retention are, ahem,…unremarkable.

By now, you’ve grown more familiar with the Second Language Acquisition research, which points to Comprehensible Input as the primary conduit for language gains.  So it’s hard to fathom going back to your grammar-based textbook, or even a curriculum that claims to be new and different…  but when you delve further, it, too, is filled with conjugation charts, rules about masculine and feminine, singular and plural endings, and thematic vocabulary lists, like, “places in the house,” or, “weather expressions.”

But we don’t communicate in lists.

We can’t go back.  We can’t teach letters/sounds with nonsense words, and we can’t continue to teach sets of related nouns, hoping that our kids’ brains will magically fill in the rest of the sentence.  And we can’t slice ‘n dice the language into rules and exceptions, tenses and endings, hoping that our kids will reconstitute it like some kind of powdered astronaut food.  We need to scaffold the language, flesh it out, and communicate naturally,  at the discourse level.  No substitution drills.  No scripted dialogues.

We need to provide TONS of comprehensible input so that our students’ brains can unconsciously and deductively uncover its patterns.  If we’re new to this, we need strategies and guidelines for how to make the target language comprehensible, compelling and contextualized.

We need a roadmap.

What might a Comprehensible Input-based curriculum look like, considering that we are trying to build language based on student interest and ideas, to keep it compelling?  How can we create a flexible course-long sequence to follow (or cherry pick), while laying-in a foundation of the highest-frequency language?  Sounds like a tall order for a teacher who is also trying to change her practices, and learn new teaching strategies herself….

There is a way.  It’s older than cave-painting, yet it constitutes the latest research-aligned approach:

Stories.

We can create collections of compelling mini stories,+- 10- line fanciful tales or scenes, employing a smattering of the most foundational vocabulary combined with cognates and proper names/places.  These could be used to teach our youngest readers, or serve as independent reading for any age group;

We can author interest-based scenes, episodes or chapters for story collections, each with its own parallel readings (different versions),  literacy extensions and activities;

We can write (or translate existing) inviting leveled chapter books or novels, geared to the unique needs of Hebrew language learners, controlling vocabulary and syntax to ensure reader ease, pleasure and success;

All these readings, great and small, provide teachers with curricular content – the students and stories are the curriculum – from which to plan her classes.  Once she internalizes the new T/CI strategies by practicing with these written collections, she may choose to then abandon the pre-written stories, and collaborate instead with her own students on mini-stories and scenes, episodes and extended stories, or a class-spun novel (it’s been done in other World Language classrooms!)  But until then, she’ll feel sustained, supported, and balanced by the training wheels of a story-based written curriculum.

I plan to begin writing such a curriculum.

Students and stories.  Students’ interests and ideas, magically spun to create customized group stories.  Stories, creating an imaginative and magical context for foundational language.

Students, stories, inventiveness and communication.  Rules, verb endings, tenses, and lists.

Let’s call it:  No contest.